Immediate Family

Acclaimed playwright Terry Baum has revived her one-woman play, Immediate Family, and will be performing it through this fall as a fundraiser for the No on Proposition 8 (the CA marriage ban) campaign. She’ll be performing it this Sunday, August 24 at 2pm, at her San Francisco home. Find out where by sending an RSVP to her directly.

Here’s a synopsis:

Virginia, a middle-aged postal worker, visits her comatose lover, Rose, in the hospital.  The tender and often hilarious one-sided conversation reveals the women’s long-term intimacy, their lives outside “normal” society, and the legal barriers which deny Virginia status as a member of Rose’s “immediate family.”  

Immediate Family opened in 1983 to critical acclaim at the National Women’s Theater Festival, and has since been performed in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Israel, Australia, and New Zealand. It has been translated into French, Dutch, and Hebrew.

Immediate Family may remind some ol’ timers of the case of Sharon Kowalski. I sure as hell will never forget it: just as I was coming out, Sharon Kowalski’s case introduced me to the sobering fact that homophobic laws, in the hands of homophobic people, were the very worst threat to me as a lesbian.  (Remember what I said, a coupla months back, about how hard it was to consider that the law might actually protect us, rather than keep us from each other?  This is what I’m talking about.)  Sharon and her partner Karen Thompson had exchanged commitment rings and named one another as insurance policy beneficiaries (about the most you could do back in the early ’80s.)  In November of 1983, Sharon’s car was hit by a drunk driver; she suffered severe brain injuries and her niece, who was in the car with her, was killed. But when Sharon’s family learned of their relationship, they cut off Karen’s visitation access to Sharon, thus launching Karen’s eight year-long battle to win first visitation rights, and ultimately custody. The words “Bring Sharon home” mean something to a lot of us still.

But lest anyone think this issue is confined to the dark ages of the late 20th century: I give you two astounding recent cases. First, that of Hillary Goodridge, best known as the lead plaintiff in the landmark Massachusetts case Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, which won gay men and lesbians the right to marry each other in that fine state.  What prompted Hillary and her partner Julie to bring suit, you might ask?  Read Hillary’s story here and find the answer.  It’s a quick read, but here’s an even shorter version of it: Hillary became frozen into a homophobic hospital-induced no-woman’s land, locked out from seeing both her newborn child in the neonatal intensive care unit, and her partner Julie, who’d just  undergone an emergency caesarean section.  Basically, a “non-bio” lesbian parent’s worst nightmare.    Damn straight they sued.

Okay, that was a number of years ago, the dogged optimists among you might say.  Things are better now, right? In Massachusetts, maybe, thanks to Hillary and Julie’s successful lawsuit.  But not in Florida.  In Miami, in February last year,  Janice Langbehn was denied access by staff at Jackson Memorial Hospital to her 18 years-long partner Lisa Marie Pond, as she lay dying of an aneurysm, for 18 hours, in their emergency room. Langbehn’s power of attorney for health care rights was faxed to the hopsital within hours of Pond’s being admitted, but to no avail. Their three children, whom they had taken on a an R Family Vacation cruise, were also barred from seeing her, though doctors treating her said there was no medical reason for keeping visitors at bay.  In fact Pond’s sister, a Jacksonville resident, was taken directly in to see her.  A social worker told them, simply and bluntly, that they were in an “anti-gay city and state.”  This is not just casual bigotry, but sadistic bigotry — really, I see no other way to name it, particularly when I picture Langbehn and their three children in abject horror in the ER waiting room.  And that bigotry had the law behind it.

After you pick up your jaw from the floor and swallow your heart back down out of your throat, read about the event in the South Florida Sun-Sentinal. Then after that, DO SOMETHING.

If you’re heterosexual, and someone asks you why you care about equal access to the legal protections of marriage, you might start by telling them about Janice Langbehn and her three kids.

  • •  Upcoming bookings of Immediate Family  around California this fall can be found here.
  • •  Information about opposition to Florida’s Amendment 2, which would ban marriage for same-sex couples, can be found here.
  • •  The National Center for Lesbian Rights has an info page on other anti-gay ballot initiatives this fall, all codifying discrimination against same-sex couples and their families — in Arizona, Arkansas, California, and Florida.
Not a resident in any of these states?  Send their campaigns money to help inform voters on the issues, and get out the vote in November.
  

fight  [next in this marraige equality series: If ever there was a time to step up, it’s now]

2 Responses to Immediate Family

  1. annz August 22, 2008 at #

    Stunning post. I hadn’t heard about the Florida case. The callousness of some people (like that Florida hospital social worker) is just shocking.

  2. virgotex August 23, 2008 at #

    long exhale.

    This is a tough one.

    I too, came of age around the time of the Kowalski case. I remember sitting in a small crowd at a lesbo coffee house listening to Thompson. I also remember a decade later, weeping at the sight of them together in the lead car of the NYC pride parade.

    During my ex’s health crisis, we were extraordinarily lucky. Partly because she received treatment at the hospital she worked at, but also partly because she had compassionate, principled providers. Her oncologist in particular, an ex-Army man, was amazing.

    Needless to say, we had the usual paperwork for which we’d paid thousands, but we were never once asked to show it.

    And that’s the thing, you know. It shouldn’t be amazing for someone in the health care field to be compassionate, principled, inclusive, they should all be, to everyone.

    In the experiences of others I know that have dealt with health care discrimination, it was the institutional bureaucracy that was unyielding.

    I was aware of the Florida and California intiatives but not the arkansas and arizona. Thanks for the heads up

    It makes my blood run cold to think of a social worker acting in such a manner.

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